Chennai: The girl with the mellow voice and delicate features first shot to prominence when she won the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media, along with A.R. Rahman and Gulzar, for the ubiquitous Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire. Most people were surprised that they didn’t know who Tanvi Shah was then — and even more engaged by the fact that she was a Chennai ponnu!
Nearly five years on, the singer-songwriter is an Indian celebrity in her own right — all the more so globally, in the realms of Latin America and Europe, where her multi-lingual artistry came into her own.
Collaborations with the likes of renowned names in the music industry, such as Snoop Dogg, Jeremy Hawkins, David Batteau, DJ Salah of Germany, as well as being one of A.R. Rahman’s favourite go-to artists, has seen Tanvi experiment in a wide spectrum of genres — from independent to playback.
But while music may be her forte, Tanvi’s eclectic persona has also lent itself to a variety of other interests, such as jewellery designing, dancing, surfing and cycling, to mention a few. More recently, she’s been in the news for her viral music video — Call it Love by association with renowned composer-producer JHawk.
In the middle of her jet-setting schedules between L.A and Chennai, this global ambassador for Indian music finds time to share a tête-e-tête with us. Here’s Tanvi on balancing international collaborations, being a more recognised figure overseas than at home, and maybe, seeing acting in her near future!
“I started off wanting to be a designer — which is why I went to design school in the U.S — met and lived alongside several students from different cultures (that’s how I learnt to be fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, Afro-Cuban and Arabic). Then I met A.R. Rahman and Fanaa (from Yuva/ Aayitha Ezhuthu) happened, and my career took a whole different path. This was almost 11 years back! Rahman is like an encyclopedia of music, and I have learnt so much from him. Along with Augustine Paul of the MMA, I would call them both my mentors,” Tanvi begins, in a breathless rant.
Fast forward a few years, when Jai Ho and the Grammy honour brought her international stardom, but she chose consciously to stay away from numerous playback singing offers, “That did put me on the map, but I really wanted to follow my gut instincts and not the conventional beaten track. I don’t have anything against others that do — but I wanted to focus on my independent music. In between, I did work on many Tamil films with Rahman and Yuvan Shankar Raja. But I guess I was yearning for something else — let’s say I wanted to crawl, before I could walk?”
She didn’t just walk though — she flew. After Slumdog Millionaire, Tanvi walked the green carpet at the Latin Grammy Awards in 2011 while promoting her song, Lluvia Lejana, and recently even shared the stage with South African singer-composer, Lebohang Morake, of Lion King fame. “I actually got mobbed in Vegas during the Latin Grammys; it’s cool that I have a fan following overseas. That’s why the Spanish version of Call It Love will be out soon too. The idea just popped up in the studio one day, when we were talking about a friend going through a rough patch in her relationship. It’s quite a simple, beautiful song and JHawk immediately loved the concept. We wanted to give it an Indian flavour too — and I think that comes across. The video was shot in several places abroad as well as in India, and since I knew belly dancing, we decided to use a bit of that! The choreographer had me dance in the water and it was quite an experience! Next up would be another single, Meant To Be, and maybe an EP in the near future. I can’t release anything unless I’m sure of its quality,” she muses.
Tanvi is also a TEDx speaker — and that journey too started with music — when her unplugged version of a Rahman song helped children with high-anxiety issues. “I heard from someone that his autistic nephew, who couldn’t sleep at all, could only find peace when he heard that particular lullaby — it was such a memorable moment for me. I spoke about Global Health at the TEDx conference in San Francisco after this experience.”
When she’s not composing, writing lyrics or recording, Tanvi’s vibrant attitude sees her work on designing merchandise, accessories and jewellery via her brand Tansha. “I feel it’s important to keep myself busy always — I get very restless if I’m not doing anything. I used to be into running and cycling, but nowadays I surf! I hit the sea at least three times a week, there’s something so calming and relaxing about being out there. In fact, we shot the music video at the spot where I surf and came across a school of dolphins — it was beautiful,” Tanvi recalls.
She cleverly evades the topic of her current relationship status by quipping that it’s for her to know and for us to find out! Well then, with a fandom across five continents and an endearing yet subtle diva image that everyone loves — surely acting is the next step? “I do get offers, but I honestly haven’t been interested thus far. Maybe if the right script came along, I’ll give it a shot. Let’s see. Right now, it’s all about music for me,” Tanvi wraps up.